Preparing older siblings for home birth

Home birth used to be the norm, before giving birth moved into hospitals. Older siblings would all have been present at a new baby’s birth, and that was normal. Nowadays birth is hidden away from children and even considering having them around is quite unusual. But birth is not scary for children, they don’t have our adult ideas that birth means pain, blood, screaming, drugs etc. And it’s a great way for them to learn about birth by actually witnessing one!

With the news that low-risk mums who have given birth before should be offered home birth, this therefore means deciding what to do with the older child(ren) when the time comes. This is a very personal choice that will come down to your family’s situation and you and your child’s personality and preferences.

For my planned home birth earlier this year, we didn’t have any family nearby who could look after our daughter who was 3, so keeping her at home seemed like the least stressful option for all of us. We also felt that to include her would help her to bond with her little sister.

To prepare her for the birth, my midwife lent me a fantastic children’s book about home birth called Hello, Baby which is a story about a home birth from a child’s point of view. We also watched some videos online of calm home water births, especially ones with other children there, like this one from Mommypotamus and these from Code Name Mama. We also talked about how mummy might make funny noises because I would be doing such hard work and pushing a bit like doing a really big poo!

Ideally you need an extra adult around so that one person can look after the child and one person can look after you. This could either be a family member to look after the child, or an additional birth partner or doula to support you. Sadly this wasn’t an option for us, so instead I put together a big bag of goodies for my daughter including stickers, colouring books, sweets, new puzzles and a new DVD to keep her entertained. We also had a list of phone numbers of friends who were willing to take her to the park for us if she was getting bored (or disturbing me).

You also need a backup plan just in case you need to transfer to hospital. Have someone – a friend or neighbour – who is willing to look after your child overnight if necessary. Pack an overnight bag for them with pjs, favourite teddy and toothbrush. It’s a good idea to have someone on standby who can come and stay at your house if you need to go into hospital while your child is asleep.

In the end I found the labour much harder , and longer, than anticipated as the baby was back-to-back. We had hoped it would happen overnight as it often does but it started in the early hours of the morning and carried on through the day. And my daughter is not great at playing independently so my husband ended up spending all his time keeping her occupied. I was getting quite noisy and she started to get upset and after a few hours of very slow progress I needed more support. So in the end we decided to send my daughter to a friend’s house across the road to play. We had hoped it would be a couple of hours but I had to transfer to hospital in the end so she ended up having a sleepover there. She actually had a great time though and has been asking for another sleepover!

Have you had a home birth with older siblings? Did you decide to keep them at home or make other arrangements? How did it work out?

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